Archive for March, 2012

Mar
13

Finding Security:: 2

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Gates have a couple of functions. For one, they provide a designated point of access; a place to enter and exit. Because of our strong evangelical leanings, we tend to make much of access into eternal life. So it would stand to reason that Jesus’ self description as the gate could make that impression. But gates do more than provide points of access and reception. They also provide security and safety.

(Jesus) explained it to them: “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before mea were thieves and robbers. But the true sheep did not listen to them. Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved. They will come and go freely and will find good pastures. The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life. (John 10:7-10, NLT)

Scholars claim that in the ancient world that sheep pens were communal. A shepherd would lead his flock to graze in pastures, then at the end of the day lead the sheep to a communal pen for the night. These pens may have been the courtyard of a home or a partially fenced area adjacent to a natural rock formation such as a cliff. The shepherd would examine each of the sheep individually as they entered the pen. If an injury had occurred the shepherd would anoint the wound with oil. Each sheep would be given a drink of water. Then after all of the sheep were accounted for, he would physically lie down to sleep across the threshold of the entry way, providing a living gate that would guard the entrance through the night. That being said, I don’t think that Jesus’ metaphor of gate as security is a stretch. He is our safety and security in an unpredictable world.

The word secure has its origins in the Latin language. Se-, meaning “free from,” is coupled with -cura, meaning “care.” Free from care. That’s not a bad working definition for security. Are you free from care? Life in the 21st century is unpredictable. We find our faith challenged on every front as we are burdened with cares about our relationships, our health, our employment, our identity, and our retirement accounts. Our world grows more and more unpredictable as we read of challenges that cannot be solved through diplomacy. Natural disasters are becoming commonplace fixtures in the nightly news. The world is an unpredictable place. Yet there is security in Christ, for He is the gate.

How can Jesus provide guarantees of security when all of life seems so tentative? What is the basis of such a bold claim? Check in tomorrow and I’ll share the basis of His claims.

Categories : I AM, Jesus, John
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Mar
12

Finding Security

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My parents celebrated their 69th wedding anniversary yesterday. No, that’s not a typo. As the story goes, my father was 19 and my mother 16, a high school junior. They had to keep the marriage a secret until she graduated from high school. But that’s not the only thing that happened in 1943. Psychologist Abraham Maslow published a paper that year, producing data to support his theory on why exemplary people performed at high levels. For some time, Maslow had been curious as to what made high achievers exemplary. Instead of studying those who were challenged by particular dysfunctions, Maslow composed a research sample of the top 1% of college students. The result of his work is what is now known as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs. According to his theory, no one can reach their potential (self actualization) without first having basic life needs met, such as their physiological needs, their need for security, their need for love and belonging, and their need for esteem. Those needs provide basic platforms which build one on top of the other until a person is able to perform to their potential.

2,000 years before Maslow, Jesus of Nazareth was operating on these principles. Last week I blogged about Jesus as “the Bread of Life,” which was the teaching Jesus gave following his feeding of the 5,000. Yes, Jesus shared this principle after feeding them. Jesus was attuned to the physiological needs of people, as further evidenced by many of the miracles He performed. In addition, Jesus was aware of people’s needs for security. That’s the gist of his declaration, “I AM the gate.” This week I’m going to post some thoughts about security and how Jesus provides security for our insecure, unpredictable lives.

Categories : I AM, Jesus, John
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Mar
09

Bread that Satisfies:: 4

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They answered, “Show us a miraculous sign if you want us to believe in you. What can you do? After all, our ancestors ate manna while they journeyed through the wilderness! The Scriptures say, ‘Moses gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, Moses didn’t give you bread from heaven. My Father did. And now he offers you the true bread from heaven. The true bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” “Sir,” they said, “give us that bread every day.” Jesus replied, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. But you haven’t believed in me even though you have seen me. However, those the Father has given me will come to me, and I will never reject them. For I have come down from heaven to do the will of God who sent me, not to do my own will. And this is the will of God, that I should not lose even one of all those he has given me, but that I should raise them up at the last day. For it is my Father’s will that all who see his Son and believe in him should have eternal life. I will raise them up at the last day” (John 6:30-40, NLT)

The final question the multitude asked Jesus revealed their unbelief. In so many words, they were asking for Jesus to prove his claims. “Show us a sign” was a common demand placed upon Jesus in the Gospels by unbelievers. We read of it here from the multitude, and later we read of the same request made by the Pharisees and the leaders of Rome. Why didn’t Jesus grant this request? It seems logical that if Jesus would have performed two or three basic miracles that the people would have responded and believed. But Jesus didn’t give in to their request. Why not?

Generally speaking, miracles in the Bible were done for those who already believed. The reason, I think, is that miracles in the face of unbelief actually hardens the heart. Think back to the Exodus account where Moses stood before Pharaoh. On ten different occasions Moses performed signs (the plagues) before the Egyptian leader and his people. With each successive miracle the Bible reports that Pharaoh’s heart grew increasingly hard. In other words, if a person is mired in unbelief, they are not prone to respond to miracles with belief. Think about it…if miracles could change unbelieving hearts the mission would have been accomplished by now! God would be showering the world with miracles.

So what impacts the unbelieving heart? I think the greatest response we can make to the unbelieving multitude is the response that Jesus gave. He loved them. Love is the quality that ultimately proves to be irresistible to a skeptical world. Sometimes people don’t immediately respond to love. In fact, if you read the end of John 6 you’ll discover that the multitude was dissatisfied with each of Jesus’ responses, and that they turned away to follow no more. But that didn’t stop Jesus. He continued to love them all the way to the cross and beyond. And so should we.

Categories : I AM, Jesus, John
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Mar
08

Bread that Satisfies:: 3

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They replied, “We want to perform God’s works, too. What should we do?” Jesus told them, “This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent” (John 6:28-29, NLT).

The first question the multitude asked Jesus revealed their materialism. The second question exposed their self sufficiency. When the crowd asked about the kind of works they could do to receive the seal of God’s approval, in so many words they were expressing their desire to possess a dynamic faith minus a functional Savior. It was as if they were saying, “Jesus, we don’t need you. We believe we can gain God’s approval on our own.” They were looking for works to do, as though favor from God could be earned by completing a secret formula. Jesus’ response was and remains clear. It’s not about works that we can do (cf. Titus 3:5). In fact, there’s only one work that can be done, that being the work of belief.

It’s interesting to me how human nature prefers the works of self effort to the simple work of belief. That preference transcends all cultures and is witnessed in both genders among people of every age category. Even those in an Eastern culture that antedates the industrial revolution had a “pull myself up by my own bootstraps” kind of thing going for them. Their esteem for Jesus was so marginal they actually believed that if He could do it, so could they. How grossly underestimated was that?!

Those who desire to get to God on their own without Christ have two things at work. One, they overestimate their own goodness. But the other thing, which I think is more troubling, is that they underestimate the surpassing value of Jesus, including all that He is and all that He has done. And its not just those outside of faith. The same challenge can torment those who have been in faith, even for a long time. Some things never change, but the changeless truth of the gospel is that we enter through belief. Tomorrow I’ll conclude this theme and finish with the next question, which is really more of an accusation. Thanks for following along with me this week!

Categories : I AM, Jesus, John
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Mar
08

My Interview with Johnston Patch

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A few weeks ago I was interviewed by Ashlee Kieler from Johnston Patch about my new assignment at First Baptist Church. Johnston Patch is an online news site that covers the Johnston Community. If you’re a resident of Johnston, Iowa, you can sign up for a daily email that will give you the latest information about Johnston schools, the Johnston City Council, and more. You can check out the interview here.

Categories : Uncategorized
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Mar
06

Bread that Satisfies:: 2

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The next day the crowd that had stayed on the far shore saw that the disciples had taken the only boat, and they realized Jesus had not gone with them. Several boats from Tiberias landed near the place where the Lord had blessed the bread and the people had eaten. So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and went across to Capernaum to look for him. They found him on the other side of the lake and asked, “Rabbi, when did you get here?” Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, you want to be with me because I fed you, not because you understood the miraculous signs. But don’t be so concerned about perishable things like food. Spend your energy seeking the eternal life that the Son of Man can give you. For God the Father has given me the seal of his approval” (John 6:22-27, NLT).

When the multitude that experienced the miracle of the loaves and fish realized that Jesus has slipped away they began a frantic search for him. Evidently they were captivated enough with the miracle they were willing to expend a little energy to chase him down. When they located him on the other side of the lake, they asked, “When did you get here?” That doesn’t give the sense of what they are really conveying, but Jesus’ answer more than covers it. Jesus discerned that the reason the people followed him across the lake was because Jesus had fed them. They had not reflected on the spiritual significance of the miracle they had experienced. Material bread perishes and ultimately does not satisfy the deepest longings of the human heart.

One would think that we Americans would have already learned that lesson about stuff. But we continue, as a rule, to seek fulfillment and gratification from material things. We are too quick to respond to the siren call of advertisers. Even though we lost (and in many cases lost big) during the economic downturn back in 2009, we continue to define ourselves by what we have and seek to enrich our lives through possessions that fail time and time again to deliver what they promise.

If you’re a follower of Jesus Christ, take some time to reflect on why you follow. Is it because you’re captivated by his life and mission? Or is it because you’re hoping that he may possibly flip you a fish sandwich?

I’m on the road home from Chicago tomorrow, but Thursday look for me to post some thoughts on the second question posed to Jesus from those who chased him across land and sea.

Categories : I AM, Jesus, John
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Mar
05

Bread That Satisfies

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Growing up, my mother always made sure we had bread on the table with every meal. Most of the time it was simply four or five slices of store bought white bread neatly stacked on a small plate that was placed on the table along with all of the other dishes. She has kept this practice all of my life for each of the three daily meals she prepared. Bread communicates a simple necessity, which is perhaps why that constant image is etched in my memory.

Through the years my wife and I have tried to make healthier choices regarding bread. We exchanged white bread for wheat bread, only to discover that wheat bread is in many instances no better than white bread. We then transitioned into 100% whole wheat bread. I don’t mind it, although I still prefer that my bread group consist of pie crust or brownies. but I digress. Bread is important to our family. We’ll even make an occasional restaurant choice based upon the bread they serve. We like bread. Most people, I think, agree.

One of the metaphors that Jesus used to describe his purpose was “Bread of Life” (John 6:30ff). But before I delve into that I think it would be helpful to set the backdrop beginning with verse one of the sixth chapter. John 6 begins with the story of Jesus teaching the multitude and feeding them with the loaves and fish. After performing that miracle, Jesus sent the twelve across the Sea of Galilee in a boat while he went to pray. While in the middle of the Sea a storm popped up and the desperate disciples were on the Sea rowing against the wind and the waves. Jesus came to them, walking on the water, and when He got into the boat all was calm and together they reached the other side. Feeding the multitude with a little boy’s lunch then walking on water represented a pretty big day’s work, even for Jesus.

The story continues to the next day as the multitude that Jesus fed the day before found Jesus after a frantic search. Evidently they were hungry again, which establishes the very point Jesus was about to make.

Categories : I AM, Jesus, John
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Mar
02

True Lenten Discipline

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My wife came across this through her campus email and passed it along. I regret that the copy she sent did not attribute this work to a particular author, but I wanted to pass this along to you for this season of Lent.

True Lenten Discipline

Fast from judging others;
Feast on Christ dwelling in them.
Fast from emphasis on differences;
Feast on the unity of all life.
Fast from apparent darkness;
Feast on the reality of all light.
Fast from thoughts of illness;
Feast on the healing power of God.
Fast from words that pollute;
Feast on phrases that purify.
Fast from discontent;
Feast on gratitude.
Fast from anger;
Feast on patience.
Fast from pessimism;
Feast on optimism.
Fast from worry;
Feast on God’s providence.
Fast from complaining;
Feast on appreciation.
Fast from negatives;
Feast on affirmatives.
Fast from unrelenting pressures;
Feast on unceasing prayer.
Fast from hostility;
Feast on non-resistance.
Fast from bitterness;
Feast on forgiveness.
Fast from self-concern;
Feast on compassion for others.
Fast from personal anxiety;
Feast on eternal truth.
Fast from discouragement;
Feast on hope.
Fast from facts that depress;
Feast on verities that uplift.
Fast from lethargy;
Feast on enthusiasm.
Fast from suspicion;
Feast on truth.
Fast from thoughts that waken;
Feast on promises that inspire.
Fast from shadows of sorrow;
Feast on the sunlight of serenity.
Fast from idle gossip;
Feast on purposeful silence.
Fast from problems that overwhelm;
Feast on prayer that sustains.

Categories : Lent
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Mar
01

I AM

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When the reluctant Moses stood at the burning bush (cf. Exodus 3) trying to wiggle out of God’s call to return to Egypt to emancipate the people of God, he asked God a remarkable question. “What is your name?” he inquired. That seems like an odd thing to ask. Did Moses not know God that well? Was he stalling? Or was he looking for something else? Names are important to us. I can remember the endless hours Lisa and I spent trying to pick the right name for each of our children. Names give a sense of permanence.

Names can also be descriptive. Bible characters have fascinating names, and more often than not, their names are a pretty good fit. Come to think of it, I’ve never known a blonde named “Rusty.” As I think about it though, I believe the most important thing about names is that they convey reality. A person’s name makes them tangible beings in our world. There’s a difference between “that guy” and “Tim.” Perhaps this is what Moses was looking for. Maybe he wanted to know if God was personal and tangible…vested in the world He created.

God’s response to Moses’ question? “I AM THAT I AM.” When God described himself as the “I AM,” He was letting Moses know that He was real, personal, tangible, and ever present. Not only that, He wanted Moses to know that He was fully self sufficient and without need. God needs nothing outside himself to exist.

There are seven times in the Gospel of John where Jesus referred to himself as “I AM.” This is not accidental or incidental. Jesus knew exactly what He was doing when He referred to Himself as the “I AM,” and so did His hearers. During these weeks that lead up to Easter, I’m going to preach a series of sermons on these seven statements from John. My goal is to convey that Jesus is the Jesus of our present reality, tangibly vested in our lives and completely able to satisfy the longings of our hearts. Last weekend our youth handled the first one where Jesus declared “I AM the light of the world” (John 8:12-20). Here is the rest of the series:

March 4: “I AM the Bread of Life” (John 6:35-40)
March 11: “I AM the Gate” (John 10:1-10)
March 18: “I AM the Good Shepherd” (John 10:11-18)
March 25: “I AM the True Vine” (John 15:1-7)
April 1: “I AM the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:1-14)
April 8: “I AM the Resurrection and the Life” (John 11:17-27)

If you live in central Iowa, I’d like to invite you to join us for worship each Sunday at 9:30 am. If not, check in each week and you’ll find some reflections from each of these messages posted here at this site.

Categories : Gospel, Jesus, John, Lent, Moses
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